Where??? Gilboa Quarry, that’s where.
I’ve been a certified scuba diver for about 30 years having taken “the plunge” as a student at Florida. The problem is that while Pittsburgh is the City of Champions (Go Pens!), and an all-around great place to live, it is a crappy place to scuba dive. So if you really want to dive, you have to go someplace like Florida which is blessed with a lot of shoreline, coral reefs off the Keys, and great freshwater springs like Ginnie up around Gainesville.
But in Pittsburgh, nada.
Another problem with being a diver is the lack of a buddy to go diving with. Most people solve this problem by joining a dive club. A dive club is usually run out of a dive shop, and we have a great one very close by. Randy’s Dive Shop is run by Barb and Van. They run a well-stocked, full-service shop with an air fill station, all the latest gear, and several dive trips per year to local and not-so-local destinations. It is also a great place to get certified to dive.
Another way to solve the buddy problem is to create one. I waited for Max to be old enough to go through the certification. Eleven is a bit on the young side, but Max is a smart kid. He has already used scuba equipment in our pool (with me watching over all the time). I signed him up for a week-long crash course at Randy’s with a great instructor, Scuba Josh, and three other aspiring divers. At home, he studied the science, and passed his written test online.
Your first certification level is Open Water. To get certified, you have to demonstrate certain skills that you learn in the pool in an open water environment. You are authorized to dive up to 60 feet deep, which is where things start getting interesting. So after his week-long course, Randy’s set up the check-out dives at a quarry in western Ohio at a place called Gilboa. Another great instructor, TJ, met us there along with a few dozen of Randy’s divers. Some were there to get Open Water certification, some for higher certifications such as Deep Diver and Master Diver.
Gilboa is about 15 miles outside Findlay. This means nothing to you, unless you happen to be a Steeler fan (we are). Findlay is the home of Big Ben Roethlisberger, the star quarterback. He was all-world in high school in Findlay, then went on to set all the records at Miami at Ohio. The Ohio NFL teams figured they could do without a future hall-of-famer, and left Ben to fall in the draft to the Steelers. Two Superbowl championships later, and, well, thanks Bengals and Browns.
This brings me to one of my favorite football jokes:
Q – “Why won’t the league allow Columbus to have an NFL franchise?”
A – “Because then Cleveland and Cincinnati would want one, too.”
So I just managed to piss off most of Ohio. Well, so be it. Win a Superbowl and come see me.
I digress….oh, yeah, Gilboa.
Right outside of Findlay is an old limestone quarry. When quarries play out a couple of things happen. The first is that they quickly fill with water. Actually, working quarries have to keep pumps running all the time to stay ahead of the groundwater back-filling the hole. Gilboa played out, and filled up. The second thing is that the water is typically very clean. The only thing in the hole is rock, so the water is silt-free. Gilboa has 40-50 foot visibility which is awesome provided you’re not anywhere in Florida. The other thing about quarry water is that it’s cold. Near the surface, the temperature is a balmy 75-deg F. As you descend, you cross thermoclines where the temperature abruptly drops. At 20 feet, the water is 65-deg F, at 40 feet, 55-deg F. And finally at the bottom of the deepest place, the temperatures are in the mid 30’s.
So you have to wear special gear to dive here, namely a wet suit, and a rather thick one at 7 mm. A wet suit allows for a thin layer of water between you and the neoprene, which keeps you warm. Those diving deeper typically wear dry suits, which have only air (which is a much better insulator than water) between you and the suit.
Max and his group (he was the youngest by two years) did six dives in all. During these dives, they were required to perform certain skills related to diver safety. Things like removing your gear 30 feet below the surface and putting it back on. Rescue of a disabled buddy. Emergency ascent. All of these dives require you to learn something like diver sign language so that the instructor can tell you what to do. Max did great, and passed with flying colors.
The last dive allowed the newly-certified divers to go off on their own (with a buddy) and explore the quarry. So what, you may ask, would one possibly see in a quarry, even with great visibility? Well, nothing, unless the quarry owners decided to place all kinds of stuff in the quarry. Namely helicopters, planes, cars, vans, a full 18-wheel semi trailer-truck, numerous boats, a Doctor Pepper machine and a school bus that is inhabited by the biggest school of fish you’ve ever seen, all waiting to be fed by you. So after all the mandatory stuff, Max and his buddy explored the quarry (down to 60 feet anyway) and had a blast. I didn’t dive this weekend, as I didn’t want to distract Max, but I think we’ll go back as I’d like a chance to see it.
So if you dive, and you happen to live in a dive-challenged place like Pittsburgh, make the 4-hour trip out to Big Ben country and Dive Gilboa!
For a two-day dive trip, you have to stay somewhere. Gilboa has a campground, and many of the divers stayed there. I dive, but I don’t camp. So we stayed back in Findlay at a Drury Inn. They had a great deal for divers that wound up costing us about $90 for the night. We don’t have Drurys in Pittsburgh, but I have stayed with them in St. Louis. They are a very hospitable bunch. The feed hungry divers a light supper consisting of hot dogs, mac-n-cheese, nachos, soup, and best of all, a ticket worth three alcoholic adult beverages for the adults. Max got all the soft drinks he could drink and unlimited popcorn all night long. In the morning, there was a complimentary hot breakfast with sausage, eggs, waffles, all manner of bagels, muffins, and what-not. When you take into account the dinner that we didn’t go out to eat, the three drinks, and the free breakfast, I think the room was free.
Also, there was a girls 12-year old softball tournament going on in Findlay, and a bunch of the teams were at our hotel. Max informed me that “it was ok to leave him at the pool (with the 20 or so 12-year old girls) and go up to the room if I wanted.
I don’t think we could’ve had a better time. And now I have a diving buddy!